They Helped a Mom Turn Her Life Around
updated 07/27/2009 AT 01:00 AM EDT
•originally published 07/27/2009 AT 01:00 AM EDT
Jen Burke had never felt so alone. On Jan. 5, after a financially draining divorce, she lost her home; the next day she was laid off from her executive-assistant job. After two months of staying in South Florida motels, she was down to loose change; that night she and her daughter Phoebe, 5, bedded down in her 1995 Honda Accord. "It was official," Jen, 39, says, her voice breaking. "I was homeless."
Two days later Cassandra Toroian and partner Jackie Blue saw Jen's story on the news. "She was so sweet—any of us could end up in this situation," Cassandra recalls thinking. "I turned to Jackie and said, 'I want to help.'"
Getting Jen's number from the television station, Cassandra, a money manager, called a motel and gave them her credit-card number to cover Jen and Phoebe's stay, then overnighted Jen $1,000 in cash and prepaid debit cards. A few days later the couple helped move Jen and Phoebe into a cheerful two-bedroom apartment, where they're picking up the $1,350 monthly rent until Jen gets back on her feet. "We wanted to be careful," Cassandra says, "but once we spoke, we got comfortable with each other."
These days Jen, who once worked in television, is launching a video-memory service aimed at seniors. The other night, putting Phoebe to bed in her new room, with its hot-pink duvet and matching lamps, Jen marveled as her daughter said she wanted to grow up to be President. "If it weren't for these two ladies," Jen says, "she'd be thinking about where we'd be sleeping. How can any human beings be so kind?"
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